From X10 to Matter: the smart home is evolving again

Apple has once again played a key role in shaping an industry-wide standard.


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The new Matter standard will enable simple and secure communication between brands and smart home devices – and existing devices can be updated to support it.

Although we’re still early in the era of modern “smart home” accessories and integration, early adopters of these technologies have long known that a company’s devices may or may not work with devices from another company.

A newly certified and industry-backed standard called Matter promises to end incompatibility and ensure that almost anything “smart” for the home can work with each other. This has the potential to greatly open up the possibilities of today and tomorrow. — Gadgets for the home.

The material support arrived on mac as part of macOS Venturaand came to iOS and iPadOS with version 16.1, including tvOS (which also covers HomePod). This follows the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) certification of official version 1.0 of Matter in early October.

A key part of that is that over 200 smart home accessory makers have pledged to support it.

By enabling different brands to work under a common control standard, Matter will provide great benefits to buyers and sellers of smart home devices.

For the first group, this will eliminate much of the “Wild West” aspect of purchasing products, with consumers no longer worrying about whether their new device can work with their existing setups or preferred voice assistants.

For manufacturers, there will be a single supported standard that will reduce buyer confusion and make products from new startups and established brands equally worthy of consideration.

Some of the over 200 companies that have pledged to support Thread and Matter.

Some of the over 200 companies that have pledged to support Thread and Matter.

The Precursor: X10

It used to be that if you wanted home automation devices from different companies to be controlled by a single industry-wide protocol, you would have had to jump in a time machine and go back to the late 1970s. original “domotic” protocol — the X10 network — allowed a “command center” to control the triggering of lamps and other light switches.

This allowed for manual control via a console or by setting timers attached to sockets for triggering on/off states. The systems “communicated” through radio signals passing through a home’s electrical wiring using Powerline technology – the same system used in non-Mesh Wi-Fi extenders today.

Thus, the early decades of home automation relied heavily on gadget enthusiasts willing to take risks on future obsolescence for the sake of controlling devices. X10 controlled products are always available although now relegated to niche and device replacement markets.

Some hubs, such as Amazon's Echo Dot, still support X10 accessories.

Some hubs, such as Amazon’s Echo Dot, still support X10 accessories.

With the rise of the Internet and the subsequent emergence of Wi-Fi technology to extend connectivity into the home, established companies such as Google were quick to create or acquire technology that transferred its influence to devices that didn’t were not previously “intelligent” in the modern world. meaning of the term. This has led to an expansion of security-focused products into televisions, temperature control and more.

Growing pains

The move of technology from the “computer desk” to places like the basement and the living room hasn’t been without its hitches, however.

In 2014, Google’s Nest division bought a smart device company Revolution then – just two years later – closed Revolv serverswhich led to the discontinuation of these products and angered buyers.

Earlier this year, popular manufacturer Insteon and its parent company SmartLabs were caught off guard by supply and liquidity issues and abruptly stopped. This cut communication with the central SmartLabs servers that the devices depended on for communication – and he joined companies like LIFX and SmartDry by blocking consumers who had invested in these products.

This has pushed consumers to hedge their bets by buying smart home devices made or endorsed by big tech companies that are seen as less likely to go bankrupt or abandon their commitment to buyers. This includes Google (despite the Revolv incident), Amazon, Samsung, and Apple, among others.

It has also led different companies to start talking to each other to make their devices and the services they depend on more resilient to the vagaries of the market or changes in technology. This makes the devices more user-friendly.

Modern smart home gadgets now use devices that can serve or double hubs to facilitate inter-device communication. However, the hubs themselves still depend on a connection to the manufacturer’s servers for things like firmware and feature updates.

If you have a HomePod or AppleTV 4Kthey act as hubs for many other devices – but these devices, regardless of brand, must all currently support Apple Homekit framework if you want them all to be controlled by Apple’s Home app.

CSA, IP and Apple Login

The new Matter standard will be a global command and control system that will give consumers the freedom to mix and match smart home devices without having to worry about interoperability. And with the aim of controlling all devices via a single application, if you wish.

The old Zigbee Alliance, now called the Connectivity Standards Alliancebrought together device makers, technology companies, and other industry leaders to find a way for devices to stay connected, speak the same “language” with each other, and communicate securely.

The heart of Matter is based on the Internet Protocol, the same networking technology that servers, routers and websites use to operate.

Apple, one of the first business groups to collaborate on Matter, contributed the HomeKit API as the basis for the open-source standard. The addition made inter-device communications security – previously not supported by most manufacturers — as important as widespread industry adoption to ensure strong consumer confidence.

Thread binds devices to Matter

Thread, an IPv6-based low-power mesh networking technology already available in the market, enhances Matter by adding standards for device-to-hub communication supported in two main ways:

  1. Bluetooth Low Energy (mainly for battery-powered and/or nearby devices) and
  2. A private and secure mesh Wi-Fi network created by hubs for communication and coordination throughout the home.

Apple and other manufacturers already offer Thread-enabled devices, such as the latest Apple TV 4K model and all current HomePods.

Thread acts as a common “language” between devices from various companies and, like Matter, can now be supported or added to many current or recent devices via firmware upgrades.

Recent products that currently support Apple’s HomeKit are considered more likely to be upgraded to support Thread and Matter, since HomeKit technology has been incorporated into these standards. But the big companies have yet to explicitly confirm which devices can or will be updated.

While Thread will act as a common networking tool among existing toolkits from different companies, Matter will bring secure and universal communication and coordination to all smart home hub devices that support it, or may be upgraded to support it. Consumers will finally be able to choose devices based on what the device can do to further automate their home functions, rather than being limited or tied to specific brands and technologies.

This should allow smart home technology to “go mainstream” with the public, boost sales and encourage further innovation among established vendors and startups.

For Apple users and smart home enthusiasts, the road ahead now seems much smoother.

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